Senator Bruce Star: Bust bureaucracy, not teachers

Oregon’s revenue shortfall: A better solution to balance the budget
By Oregon State Senator Bruce Starr
Guest Column in Oregonian, 6-7-10

The latest state revenue forecast revealed the reality that many of us have been warning about for more than two years. State revenue projections have not kept pace with the feverish pace of state spending, leaving a $577 million shortfall in this budget cycle. The majority party wrote a budget last year that included a 15 percent increase in total spending, despite skyrocketing unemployment and a bleak economic picture. Now we’re reaping the consequences of their wild oats.

The governor’s solution to the shortfall is to hastily slash 9 percent of every agency and program budget, regardless of the importance or value of the service provided. That means the Department of Administrative Services won’t face a cut any deeper than our local classrooms. It means the Department of Revenue won’t be asked to reduce any more than the prison system or our state police patrols. This mindless “solution” that cuts teachers and school days rather than bureaucracy and administration is a bad approach in my book.I recently had the opportunity to visit with a group of seventh-grade students at Neil Armstrong Middle School in Forest Grove. It was clear they are concerned about the future of their education and the fate of their most beloved teachers and classes in the wake of what looks to be a $2.7 million cut to Forest Grove School District. Also in my district and of grave concern to me is the Hillsboro School District, which has announced that an additional $8.2 million cut from its budget will force some school principals into part-time staff members. When there are alternative solutions to putting our students in this vulnerable situation, why aren’t they explored to the fullest extent?

That’s why I’ve taken action to call the Legislature into emergency special session. Along with Democrat Bill Morrisette, I set into motion a mechanism the Legislature can use to call itself into a special session by a majority vote of both chambers. This is our chance to cut the bureaucracy, waste and less-important services of state government rather than classroom teachers and school days. A special session would give the Legislature an opportunity to fulfill its constitutionally mandated duty: create a balanced budget. It would also give us a chance to make needed reductions to state spending with precision, carefully prioritizing and protecting the services that matter most to Oregonians. If we are successful in calling a special session, my first priority will be protecting K-12 classroom budgets.

It may be the irresponsible budgeting of the majority party that has put us in this mess, but I’m unwilling to make our classrooms suffer as a result. Across-the-board cuts are draconian and an irresponsible way to make needed reductions to state government. A special session would give us the opportunity to do what we were elected to do: balance the budget and protect the services that make the greatest impact in our daily lives.

Bruce Starr, a Republican, represents Hillsboro in the Oregon Senate.